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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

We the People: Juries were established by founders, but who could serve on them hasn’t always been inclusive

Members of the jury in the 1944 hatchet murder case in Spokane of Woodrow "Whitey" Wilson Clark. Rear row (left to right): Mrs. Richard Wolf, Mabel M. Ude, A.P. Sunwold, Hazel Bowman, Eva Blevins, Hans Pietersen, E.F. Reglin (alternate), and Mrs. R.K. Squibb, bailiff. Front row: George R. Gray,Lena A. Tart, Chris Klewns, Margaret Byers, Rudolph Stammerjohn, Mary A. Rieper, Bonnie M. Addington (alternate), and Fred Hoskin, bailiff. Clark was accused of killing three and injuring a fourth with a hatchet at Dillon Sign Shop, 1806 E. Sprague Ave., and tried in the courtroom of Judge Louis Bunge. The jury found him guilty, and he was executed by hanging in 1946.  (Spokesman-Review archives)
By John Kenlein For The Spokesman-Review

Each week, The Spokesman-Review examines one question from the Naturalization Test immigrants must pass to become United States citizens.

Often included in a category typically reserved for skunks, rusty nails, crowds, rattlesnakes and late fees, jury duty is something else many people hope to avoid.

If you have ever received a jury duty notification, how did you respond? What thoughts did you have? “This is a waste of my time, pick someone else to do it,” or another common reaction, “How do I get out of it?”

Not surprisingly, an Internet search of “getting out of jury duty” yields more results than “serving on a jury.”

But perhaps you did think of the experience as being part of a process larger than yourself, doing your civic duty and participating in the enforcement of laws.

The three types of juries are: a grand jury of 16 to 23 members where a majority decides whether a person will stand trial in certain circumstances, a criminal trial jury (also known as petit jury) comprised of 12 persons to decide a verdict of guilty or not guilty unanimously, and a civil jury of six to 12 citizens often acting upon majority rule, deciding if a defendant is liable to pay damages in a contract dispute.

And now, today’s question: Who can vote in federal elections, run for federal office and serve on a jury in the United States?

The answer is United States citizens. But in relation to juries, it took three Supreme Court decisions to help define inclusion of all citizens on a jury.

Strauder v. West Virginia in 1880 states a juror cannot be excluded because of race. Taylor v. Louisiana in 1975 adds that a jury cannot exclude women, and Batson v. Kentucky in 1986 explains no peremptory challenge based upon race will be allowed.

Nearly all civic participation is voluntary, but the call to serve on a jury is not. It comes as an order by the court. Trial by jury requires the fair and impartial decision-making of ordinary citizens. It is through juries that “We the People” have a voice in the justice system.

Washington state law states, “A person summoned for jury service who intentionally fails to appear as directed shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Right to a jury established early

From the Declaration of Independence

The Founding Fathers accused King George III of “depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.”

From Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution

“Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.”

The Sixth Amendment

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

The Seventh Amendment

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

How am I picked for a jury?

In Spokane County, the Master List of available jurors is a combination of eligible Spokane County residents ages 18 and over from the driver’s license list, voter registration list and state ID card list.

Do I get paid?

Jury fees are set by the county commissioners of each county in Washington not to exceed $25 per day. Like most counties in the state, the $10 minimum is the daily rate for service in Spokane County.

Jurors may also submit mileage.

What about my job?

Washington law says employers, “shall provide an employee with sufficient leave of absence from employment when that employee is summoned” for jury duty. It also says employers, “shall not deprive an employee of employment or threaten, coerce, or harass an employee or deny an employee promotional opportunities” for serving as a juror. It does not say your employer has to pay you while you serve.

The French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835) may sum up jury service best. “The jury, which is the most energetic means to make the people rule, is also the most effective means to teach them to rule.” Jury duty lends respect and learning of the process.

For more information, please consult in Washington, in Idaho or your local county clerk’s office website.

John Kenlein, a teacher at Lewis and Clark High School, is in his 22nd year teaching public high school students social studies courses, including World History, U.S. History, Contemporary World Affairs and Civics.